Narcissism specialists say that we have two choices when dealing with narcissists and those on the narcissistic spectrum: live on their terms or go “no contact.” I suggest we have a third option: walk through the chaos and confusion armed with new strategies and coping skills and protected by solid, healthy boundaries.
In my own recovery journey, reading, researching, and working through various therapies eventually led me into Narcissism Awareness Grief (NAG). I finally acknowledged my negative, traumatic childhood experiences and learned how, unhealed, they affected my adult relationships. I diligently worked through the stages of NAG and continued learning new coping skills like setting boundaries, positively emotionally detaching, and practicing strategic communication. As I found my voice and spoke my truth, my confidence and self-esteem grew. I began feeling whole and worthy for the first time in my life.
If you’ve read “Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism,” you know that one of the ways my mother manipulated and controlled me as a child was to use the fear of abandonment. She threatened to give me away, put me in an orphanage, or send me to live with my father, whom she repeatedly said: “didn’t love us or want anything to do with us.” I lived in constant fear of doing the “right thing,” whatever the right thing was at any particular time. “The right thing” could and did change without warning, so I needed to remain constantly alert for changes in her tone of voice, behavior, and our home environment.
My mom parented by blaming, shaming, intimidating, threatening, and physically punishing. In the earliest years of my life, I learned that I was somehow to blame for everything that displeased her. Second-guessing and doubting myself became my way of life. I felt like a burden, believing that I made her life harder simply because I existed. I stayed out of her way as much as possible. I grew up feeling lonely and alone.
My mother shared her thoughts and feelings with me in frightening, highly emotionally charged, biased, and inappropriate ways. Gaslighting and the resulting cognitive dissonance distorted my perceptions and beliefs. At age eight, my codependency had begun. Her behavior initiated the codependency process, and her words guaranteed it.
Written words, spoken words, they all matter. It matters what people say to you, and it matters what you say to yourself. If you live with a narcissist or toxic person (or have one in your life,) you already know that it can negatively affect how you think about yourself, what you tell yourself, and how you treat yourself.
Oblivious of my codependency, her words and my own negative self-talk combined to confirm my beliefs that I was unlovable, would never be good enough, and didn’t matter.
The combination of the negative self-talk and the limiting beliefs kept me in a state of learned helplessness. Eventually, as an adult, I woke up to the fact that I was stuck. I’d been repeating the same hurtful relationship patterns throughout my adult life and wondering why I was unhappy. Finally, I realized that something had to change. So, among other things, I started examining, questioning and then changing my unsupportive inner dialogue into supportive, positive self-talk. I watched in awe as my limiting beliefs began to fade away. As I started thinking differently about myself, my self-identity changed. My opinions about myself changed. I changed.
Pleasing and Appeasing
I talk about codependency a lot in Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism. Codependency is at the very core of the changes we need to make in ourselves, so we can heal from the mistreatment or abuse.
Codependency is described as a set of maladaptive coping skills. They are typically learned in childhood when feeling unsafe in the home environment. Living with real or perceived threats makes it necessary for those growing up like this to monitor their settings and control people and outcomes to feel safe. It eventually feels natural to do this, and it becomes a way of life. Codependency can also be learned by imitating other codependents. It can be passed down through generations. This is known as “generational trauma.”
If we’re codependent, we became that way as a survival mechanism. Becoming codependent helped us survive a chaotic, confusing, and possibly dangerous environment. Then we grew up and found ourselves to be “people-pleasers” who willingly play by the rules of others and lose our identity in the process. We rely on others for a sense of identity, approval, or affirmation. We support and “enable” others in their addictions, mental illness, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. As adults, we can eliminate codependent thinking and acting by learning new tools, skills, and strategies.
When we’re bogged down in codependency, it’s impossible to know our true, authentic selves. But by using affirmations, we can become aware of our codependent thoughts and behavior and replace them with healthy, functional ones. And we can finally get to know our real selves.
How Affirmations Work
Affirmations remind us of who we are when we are our authentic selves. By writing and speaking positive affirmations, we can begin honoring and eventually becoming our true selves. Affirmations help us to find ourselves and create our best lives possible.
A Positive Mindset
Affirmations are designed to promote an optimistic mindset; they have been shown to reduce the tendency to dwell on negative experiences (Wiesenfeld et al., 2001.) Optimism is powerful! When we replace negative thoughts with positive ones, we create a whole new narrative around “who we are” and what we can accomplish.
There are three fundamental ideas involved in self-affirmation theory. First, correctly written affirmations work according to this theory:
- By using positive affirmations, we can change our self-identity. Affirmations reinforce a newly created self-narrative; we become flexible and capable of adapting to different conditions (Cohen & Sherman, 2014.) Now, instead of viewing ourselves in a fixed or rigid way (for example, as “lazy”), we are flexible in our thoughts. We can adopt a broader range of “identities” and roles and define things like “success” differently. We can view various aspects of ourselves as positive and adapt to different situations more easily (Aronson, 1969.)
- Self-identity is not about being exceptional, perfect, or excellent (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Instead, we need to be competent and adequate in areas that we value (Steele, 1988.)
- We maintain self-integrity by behaving in ways that genuinely deserve acknowledgment and praise. We say an affirmation because we want to integrate that particular personal value into our own identity.
Affirmation research focuses on how individuals adapt to information or experiences that threaten their self-image. Today, self-affirmation theory remains well-studied throughout social psychological research.
Self-affirmation theory has led to research in neuroscience and investigating whether we can “see” how the brain changes using imaging technology while using positive affirmations. MRI evidence suggests that specific neural pathways increase when we speak affirmations (Cascio et al., 2016). For example, the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex,” involved in positive self-evaluation and self-related information processing, becomes more active when we speak positively about our values (Falk et al., 2015; Cascio et al., 2016).
The evidence suggests that affirmations are beneficial in multiple ways.
- have been shown to decrease health-related stress (Sherman et al., 2009; Critcher & Dunning, 2015.)
- have been used effectively in “Positive Psychology Interventions,” or PPI, scientific tools and strategies used for increasing happiness, well-being, positive thinking, and emotions (Keyes, Fredrickson, & Park, 2012.)
- may help change the perception of otherwise “threatening” messages (Logel & Cohen, 2012.)
- can help us set our intention to change for the better (Harris et al., 2007) (Epton & Harris, 2008.)
- have been positively linked to academic achievement by lessening GPA decline in students who felt isolated in college (Layous et al., 2017.)
- have been demonstrated to lower stress (Koole et al., 1999; Weisenfeld et al., 2001.)
- provide health benefits by helping us respond in a less defensive or resistant manner when we perceive threats.
In a nutshell, using affirmations allows us to create an adaptive, broader self-concept, making us more resilient to life’s struggles. A broader self-concept is a valuable tool!
If you’re interested in learning more about using affirmations to heal the effects of non-nurturing relationships- I wrote this to specifically address the harmful effects of time spent with narcissists, manipulators, liars, and the toxic, unsupportive, non-nurturing, self-absorbed.
More tools for healing:
Learn how to protect yourself with boundaries
Learn about dysfunctional family roles
Learn about codependency
Understand the narcissistic abuse cycle
Learn about Narcissism Awareness Grief
More Resources for You~
If you are on a healing journey from a narcissistic mother, allow me to introduce you to Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism.
For as long as I can remember, there was something “different” about my mother. She wasn’t like other mothers.
My mom didn’t hug or kiss, smile at, spend time with, or play with me. She never seemed happy to see me. She didn’t ask about my school day and wasn’t interested in knowing my friends. She seemed to have no interest in me or anything that I did. My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months. When she felt sad I was expected to emotionally care-take her. When she didn’t feel like parenting, I was responsible for my siblings. When she lost her temper, she hit. When I was disobedient, there were bizarre punishments.
I was not allowed to express feelings, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My feelings were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. She re-wrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet, and not question.
If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. If there is manipulation, power struggles, or cruelty in your relationship, this book can help. If you second-guess your memory, doubt your judgment or sanity, or continually seek your mother’s withheld affection, attention, approval, or love, this book can explain why.
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Weekly lessons, strategies, and homework to start you moving forward from the effects of hurtful or non-nurturing relationships, narcissists, and Lemon Moms.
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YOUR CRASH COURSE IN RELATIONSHIP SELF DEFENSE
In a world where love and companionship are highly valued and sought, it becomes necessary to navigate our relationships cautiously. Understanding relationship warning signs can be helpful in your relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues too. By recognizing potentially harmful patterns of interaction or behavior, you can take proactive measures to avoid toxic dynamics and nurture positive connections with those who share your values and aspirations.
In this book, I delve into concepts of personality quirks and idiosyncrasies, relationship dynamics, and the definitions and differences in what is meant by toxicity, dysfunction, mental health, and abuse. You’ll learn how to guard against emotional, physical, or psychological harm that can arise from unhealthy relationships. By honing your ability to discern the warning signs, you can enjoy more satisfying relationship experiences!
I hope you join me on this transformative expedition as we delve into the intricate tapestry of human interactions and the delicate balance between connection and self-preservation. Together, we will navigate the sometimes-hazardous realm of relationships, armed with information that can guide us toward more fulfilling relationships. We will uncover the hidden patterns and subconscious biases that can lead us astray and we’ll empower ourselves to make informed choices that align with our true desires and values. This journey of self-discovery will illuminate the path toward healthier relationships and serve as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and its capacity for growth and transformation. So, get ready to embark on an odyssey of awareness, self-discovery, and empowerment as we leave past missteps behind and embrace a future filled with love, authenticity, fulfillment, and a constant feeling of safety and security.
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Feel empowered to rescue, protect and heal yourself from their mistreatment or abuse
The TOOLBOX (Recover from Toxic People) App is a great portable way to feel supported and validated as you experience personal growth. It’s for anyone affected by past and present toxic, hurtful, non-nurturing or neglectful relationships.
Healing begins with awareness, understanding, and action. Take back your power and move forward.
Experience the power of self-affirmation: using positive statements to improve well-being and performance. Learn research-based steps to write the most effective affirmations to manifest love, positivity, peace, self-confidence, motivation, success, and other wonderful things.
I AM: A Guided Journey to Your Authentic Self, Workbook and Journal, by Diane Metcalf
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About the Author
Diane Metcalf is an experienced advocate, speaker, and author specializing in abuse and family dynamics.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology. Her professional portfolio is diverse, encompassing fields such as Domestic and Partner Abuse Counseling, Geriatric Care Management, Developmental Disability Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Information Technology Management, and Education.
Through her personal healing journey from physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and with ongoing self-improvement practices, she has developed effective tools that she happily shares with others seeking growth in their own recovery. Her focus is on healing relational trauma through awareness, intention, and introspection, combined with healthy coping strategies and tools.
She is the author of the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series, an emotionally supportive collection that dives into the effects of growing up with mothers having narcissistic traits. This compassionate trilogy provides valuable insights and guidance for coming to terms with past traumas to initiate the healing process.
Learn more about the Lemon Moms series: Lemon Moms
See what’s new on DianeMetcalf.com
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.